Eating high protein plant-based meals at lunch helps fend off the dreaded 3pm slump. Here’s 11 vegan lunch recipes packed with bold flavors.
Yes, it’s true…all plant foods have protein. But not all plant foods are high protein plant foods like lentils. One potato has 3 grams of protein. A cup of raw spinach has just shy of 1 gram or protein. It’s a common misconception in the vegan and plant-based community that you don’t have to pay any attention to plant-based protein at meal time. That’s why I focus on creating plant-based recipes that consider protein as part of creating balanced nourishment.
As a registered dietitian, it is not uncommon that folks will come to me feeling tired or craving sugar all of the time while transitioning to a plant-based diet and one of the most common causes of these symptoms is not getting enough protein. Why? Because adequate protein at a meal helps slow down the rate at which blood sugars rise, helping to keep blood sugars – and energy levels! – at an even keel. Important minerals such as iron, zinc and magnesium also tend to follow protein in plant foods. It’s also why I’m also big on these high protein vegan breakfast recipes too. Because while it’s true that you don’t need a ton of protein, eating nothing but pasta and salad 24/7 isn’t going to cut it.
How much protein do I actually need?
We don’t need a lot of protein to meet our minimum basic requirements, which are 0.8 grams of protein per kg of body weight. In pounds, that’s 0.36 grams per pound. So, for a 150lb person, your requirements are 54 grams of protein daily. For a 200lb person, that’s 72g of protein. Considering that 2 pieces of sprouted grain toast with natural peanut butter nets you like 18 grams of protein, it’s pretty easy to do. It’s also easy not to do if you are eating a lot of baked goods and not a lot of whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds.
I find it interesting that in the plant-based world, we stubbornly stick to this minimum recommendation when it comes to protein. Admitting that you want to put higher protein plant foods on your plate does not diminish the health, ethical or environmental benefits of eating plant-based. It just means you’re interested in eating a nutrient-dense, nourishing diet! With that in mind, know that some folks feel like they thrive on less protein while others (including me!) feel better eating more. What’s more? Perhaps 0.5g per pound of body weight…up to a maximum of maybe 80-90 grams for a non-athlete. This would be 75 grams for the 150lb person and 80-90 grams for the 200lb person. More…but not an unrealistic amount!
Most important thing? Listen to your body. And don’t count your macros…it sucks the joy out of eating (and living!).
Instead, whether you’re vegan, vegetarian or an omnivore, I recommend that you strive to create meals centred on the plate method: half a plate of fruits and vegetables, quarter plate of starchy veg like potatoes or whole grains and quarter plate of a higher protein food like tofu, tempeh or legumes. You don’t have to get there all the time – sometimes, you just want a big ol bowl of pasta! – but doing it often will ensure you’ve got balanced nutrition.
Or, you could just enjoy these high(er) protein plant-based lunch ideas and not sweat the macros!
11 Plant-Based Lunch Ideas Rich in Protein
Here are some healthy plant-based meals that I love. A few can be made in the morning and many are perfect for a weekly batch prep (or make a double batch for dinner one night and eat for lunch the rest of the week!)
Roasted Shiitake Lentil Salad (& More Plant-Based Lunches!)
- 1 cup dry French lentils
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 pound shiitake and cremini mushrooms cleaned and halved
- ½ cup diced red onion
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil plus 1 teaspoon for squash
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme leaves
- 2 cups frozen butternut squash or leftover roasted squash
- 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
- pinch dried chile flakes
- 2 handfuls arugula or baby kale
- ¼ cup raw sunflower seeds
- salt and pepper for seasoning
Garlicky Turmeric Dressing
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon pure maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 2 cloves roasted garlic or ½ – 1 clove raw, micrograted or crushed
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
- Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C). Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment and set aside.
- In a medium pot, bring French lentils to a boil with bay leaves until cooked but al dente about 15 – 20 minutes. Rinse, drain and season with salt and pepper.
- Meanwhile, spread mushrooms and onions on baking sheet, toss with 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil and thyme. Roast for 12-15 minutes, until mushrooms gain colour but before they start to wilt too much. Season with salt and pepper.
- If using frozen squash, using a pot fitted with a steamer basket, steam butternut squash until warm (2-3 minutes). Remove from heat. Place leftover or cooked frozen squash in a large bowl and toss in 1 teaspoon oil, maple syrup, chili flakes, salt and pepper. (No steamer basket? Bring 1 inch of water to a boil and then toss in squash for just a minute or two max)
- Meanwhile, whisk up dressing ingredients – olive oil, lemon juice, Dijon, maple syrup, turmeric, garlic, salt and cumin – in a small bowl.
- In a large bowl, add mushrooms, lentils, sunflower seeds and greens to squash. Pour over dressing, and gently toss to coat. Season with more salt and pepper as desired.